Hope sneaks up on you when you’re doing the dishes or taking the kids to school or standing in 120° heat under a palm tree. It shimmers in your chest for a moment and suddenly you realize that you’re going to be okay.
I was driving home from a therapy appointment in 1995, belting out Comfortably Numb when I had to pull over because I had a sensory flashback of the night my father took my virginity while I was sleeping. Out of nowhere, my vagina’s on fire.
I park by the side of the road, music off now, trying not to hyperventilate while I do a panicky, improvised Lamaze breathing–because, hell, that’s how you treat pain down there, right?
But my lips start tingling, so I shut off the car and get out.
The heat hits me like a backdraft, and I forget about the pain in my crotch. The pavement cooks my feet through the soles of my sandals as I do a skittery hop to the grass beyond the sidewalk.
Off with my shoes, and I’m standing barefoot in the skinny shade of a palm tree, and another more recent memory sweeps in. My sons, playing naked in the slimy thick mud in the front yard. Their bodies caked and splattered, hair spiky with it. Happy. Me, too, watching them, then, and now. Happy.
Another feeling, one I can’t identify, is in my chest and it hurts a little. At first I think it’s sadness, which would make sense, given that I’ve just pulled over to quell a horrible memory. But no, I’m feeling something good, but I don’t know its name.
Today I know. It’s hope.
And now is more powerful than what’s gone.
Now is my gift. It’s mine, every tiny second of it. Whether it’s fun and happy or dark and achy, it’s all mine. Of course, it was mine all along, but I spent much of it in a fugue state.
The flashbacks are like rips in time’s fabric: sometimes I slip through. But beauty lies in the weave: I may fall, I will fall, but I can always pull myself up by the threads.
All that I’ve read is a part of me.
The thing about books is that you don’t lose their stories. You can always come back to them because they reside inside you. You’re the heroine and the bad guy. You save the day and you muck things up. The places are inside you, and because you know they also exist somewhere else, you know that your right-here place is temporary. When you lose your way, you can find your way back because of those stories.
My family’s song is of loss. We lose our kids because we give them away, and when they come back years later we don’t know what to do with them. We never knew what to do with them in the first place. We had no teachers to show the way, only waifs and harridans, both helpless in their own right. Waifs and harridans in this case are all feminine, even though men feature prominently throughout. I think of how they feature, and I wonder if it’s a born-to role that each is impelled to live in the same way it seems we’re impelled to give away our children.
We women lose ourselves. We are strong waifs. We have survived being starved and beaten, raped and mocked, and we want/don’t want to be rescued. We want/don’t want to feel secure and safe. Alcohol and drugs, shopping, hobbies, they all serve as companions to sate the need for burial of all feelings wayward and uncomfortable.
We lose our dreams even while we live them in part because it feels like not enough, or not right, or just plain not. It feels like not everything. It’s very unsatisfying, living one’s happy dream with a niggling yearning for the unknown.
We lose our connections with the outside world because we like our own company. We’re never-lonely waifs, and we can be harridans on a dime.
We lose our way.
I like and admire the women in my family, including myself. I see us, and although we lose, lose, lose so much, we ourselves are not lost, because, as the poem goes, “No one is lost to the one who sees.”
Story saved me. Is saving me still.
In 1900, my great-grandmother, Grace, married a man named Charles Brewster. Two years later she had a little girl she named Mildred, and about two years after that she left her husband and child to go live with her mother.
She remarried in 191_. Her husband’s name was Kratka, and they had two children named Kenneth and Lillian. She left her husband and both children when her mother died in 1923.
She then married the man who had been painting her mother’s house. His name was Oscar Ganiard/Ganard/Ghanard, and they had a child named Ruth, who is my grandmother. Grace and Oscar divorced, and in 1930 Grace Ganard is listed as a widow, although Oscar was very much alive, probably on a boat to China. My grandmother did not meet him until she was 20 and had a little boy, my father, named Eddie.
This story-line surprises me because my Nana seems to be well-put together. She’s proper, and frequently instructs me, still, on how to be a lady. Once, about 8 years ago, she somewhat desperately offered me $500 if I’d learn to walk with quiet steps, like a lady, after hearing me trod the boards of an old schoolhouse where the Daughters of the American Revolution had its monthly meeting. She has never understood that I like the thunder of my heavy tread. It means I am here. I am here. She also does not see the ____of the fact that it was my research that put her into that elite club.
The story-line also surprises me because my mother’s side of the family has always been the “bad” side, according to my father’s family. She was a wild hippy with paint in her hair. She was skinny and knock-kneed, as she once put it. She told me so on a day we were out gathering wood up in Forest Falls. She handed me her camera and told me to take a picture of her and my step-father, Schuy, and said, “Make sure my knees aren’t in the picture.” I took two pictures that day. One without her knees, of course, but only after I got one with them. I still remember the frisson of fear as I handed her camera back.
I have one picture of my parents. It’s their wedding day, an impromptu event that was a scoche more organized than their secret wedding before the justice of the peace the month earlier, a fact I know because I’m a genealogy spook. (I also know my father has another marriage under his belt that either no one knows about or no one acknowledges as fact. Facts in my family have many alternative names just like in some other families we know.)
To be cont’d….